By Shoshanna Inwood
Kerissa and Charlie Payne are beginning farmers raising two daughters on a central Ohio farm. By conventional measures, their livestock farm, Covey Rise, is a success. Yet, below the surface, the challenge of finding quality, affordable child care has kept their business from growing and reaching its full potential.
“It feels like we’re always split between keeping the kids safe on the farm, being good parents, and the needs of the farm,” Kerissa Payne said.
The United States has a child care crisis, yet the issue remains largely invisible in the farm sector. Farm parents are working parents who must juggle child care while working what can be one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in America.
Over the past 10 years, rural researchers have interviewed farmers nationwide to understand how child care affects farm business economic viability, farm safety, farm families’ quality of life, and the future of the nation’s food supply. What we found debunks common myths that have kept child care in the shadows of farm policy debates and points to solutions that can support farm parents.
Myth #1: Child care is a not a problem in the farm sector.
Nationally, 77% of farm families with children under 18 report difficulties securing child care because of lack of affordability, availability, or quality. And 48% report that having access to affordable child care is important for maintaining and growing their farm business.
Myth #2: Farmers don’t need help with child care.
It’s a myth that farm parents want to do it all on their own and that when they need help, they have family members who can watch the children. This might work if relatives are nearby, but almost half of farmers surveyed said their own parents were too busy to help with child care, had died, or were in declining health.
Often, farm parents have moved away from family and friends to find affordable land, and the lack of community makes child care harder. The problem is that they cannot find or afford help.
Myth #3: Children can just come along when doing farm work.
While wonderful places to grow up, farms can be dangerous. Every day, 33 children are seriously injured in agricultural-related incidents, and every three days, a child dies on a farm. Almost all farm parents—97%—have worried their children could get hurt on the farm.
Parents constantly weigh the risks and benefits of having children on the farm. One farmer planned to farm with his son but admitted he “didn’t think about a baby not being able to be out in the sun all day,” and was struggling to balance child care and farm work.
Farmers spoke about solutions including free or affordable quality child care, before- and after-school programs, better parental leave policies for wage and self-employed workers, financial support for safe play areas on the farm, college debt relief, free college tuition, and more affordable health insurance.
For the first time in history, the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union have included child care in their policy priorities for the 2023 federal farm bill. In March, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced a marker bill for the bipartisan support to help increase access to affordable, quality rural child care.
As one Ohio farmer put it, “If America wants farmers, farm families need help with child care.” We would do well to listen.